Laurie Buelow and Ric Ostrom play Sunday in a pickleball tournament at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs. The event drew about 30 players, helping signal the way the sport has caught on in town in the last year.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Laurie Buelow and Ric Ostrom play Sunday in a pickleball tournament at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs. The event drew about 30 players, helping signal the way the sport has caught on in town in the last year.

Pickleball catching on in Steamboat Springs

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Debbie Ratliff serves the ball Sunday during a pickleball tournament at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs.

Play pickleball

The Tennis Center hosts open play pickleball sessions the following days and times:

Wednesdays

Noon to 1 p.m. clinic for first-time players

1 to 2:30 p.m. beginners and players with impaired mobility

2:30 to 4 p.m. intermediate and advanced players

Fridays

2 to 3 p.m. clinic

3 to 4:30 p.m. intermediate and advanced players

All sessions cost $6 a person and are at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs. Equipment is provided. Call 970-879-8400 to reserve a spot or 970-761-2047 for more information.

Two years ago pickleball wasn’t even an afterthought of a sport in Steamboat Springs.

A tournament Sunday at the Tennis Center showed just how much that’s changed. The sport is similar to tennis but played on a smaller court and with paddles and a whiffle ball. It’s become the sport of choice for many in retirement communities in Florida and Arizona, and Sunday’s turnout proved it’s got a few fans in Steamboat Springs as well.

Six pickleball courts were squeezed Sunday onto two tennis courts inside the tennis bubble and about 30 Steamboat Springs residents showed up to try their hand at the sport, which for the vast majority is still a new addiction.

Pickleball entered the Steamboat consciousness through several streams. Tennis pro Carol Baily introduced some to the sport while working at the Tennis Center. Others were ensnared by Jay Readinger and his wife, Mary Lou Gallup, who have been major proponents of pickleball in Steamboat.

They helped organize Sunday’s tournament, bringing together the Tennis Center, the Over the Hill Gang and Casey’s Pond Senior Living community for sponsorship, support and prizes.

“It was very slow for a long time, but in the last two months it’s picked up,” Readinger said. “Now we’re playing here, at the college, at Lowell Whiteman and at Howelsen. Almost every day of the week we’re playing someplace.

“I’m ecstatic.”

The pickleball movement is a city-wide affair. Supporters put together a proposal for the lodging tax accommodations funds, and while it wasn’t selected in the end, there are signs of momentum. Readinger said pickleball lines may be included in a looming city plan to resurface the Howelsen Hill tennis courts.

Readinger also teaches a Colorado Mountain College pickleball course, which filled up and finishes its 15-week run Monday night.

Pickleball has been a welcome addition to the Tennis Center, according to facility director Jim Swiggart. Two years ago, when Readinger and Gallup began their local push, neither the Tennis Center nor the Old Town Hot Springs reported having noticed any interest in the sport. Now the Tennis Center has about 20 hours of court time per week dedicated to pickleballers, with drop-in sessions scheduled two days a week.

“We are putting down lines on the courts and making sure the players know they’re welcome,” Swiggart said.

The sport taxes participants differently than tennis. It doesn’t require nearly as much running or as much power to get the light plastic ball over the net. Those differences have led to a different kind of clientele for Swiggart.

“I would guess 70 percent of the pickleball players are people who haven’t played tennis or haven’t been to the Tennis Center in a long time,” he said. “It’s brought a bunch of new people in and, from a business perspective, I’m delighted by that."

Sunday’s players demonstrated the sport's wide appeal. Players in their 80s grinned wide and wagged fingers at opponents after dropping in winning shots while athletes in their 20s sweated out tight games on a court nearby.

A few had logged years playing pickleball. Many more had picked it up in the preceding months and weeks. And at least one player picked up a paddle for the first time Sunday.

“We were both tennis players, but this is totally different,” said Arlene Zopf, who played Sunday with her husband, Michael.

Friends convinced the Zopfs to try the CMC class, but when the night of the first class came, the friends backed out and the Zopfs were left to go at it alone without knowing anything about the sport.

“Now we really, really love it,” she said. “I have a shoulder problem. Michael has a knee problem. This is just a lot less stress on your body than tennis. It’s a great sport and a great way to meet other people.”

Jim Webster and Andy Ziegler won Sunday's tournament. Gary Boyer and Mike Stettler were second, and Jim Berry and Loretta Conway were third.

No matter how many of the players finished on the scoreboard, however, Sunday was yet more evidence that the gospel of pickleball is drawing a flock in Steamboat Springs.

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